The Kern family of Blue Grass
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kern Sr. and their four children, Joseph Jr., Max, Anton and Frances, left Bavaria, Germany in 1869 coming to Oshkosh. Wis.. Later they moved to Waseca County for a brief time and then to Mankato, Minn., and finally to Wadena County in 1879, primarily on the say so of one Casper Trout, a Civil War veteran and one of the first settlers in this area. Max, Joe and Anton journeyed from Mankato and found what Trout said was true and thus the family moved to what would become known as Kern Country.
Sometime before the Kern Brothers arrived the area was known as Lotta but sometime later another early settler Chauncy Hill renamed it Blue Grass after his former home Blue Grass, Ky., primarily because Kentucky Blue Grass grew in the area. Afterward Lotta became the name of the rural post office north of town.
Joseph Jr., the eldest of the children, was born in Bavaria July 23, 1853, and married Mary Scheurer in 1879 and had no children. Max the next child was born in Bavaria on March 15, 1855 and married Veronica Fruth in 1887, and they had 10 children. Anton, born in 1857 and in 1883 married Catherine Scheurer. Mary and Catherine were sisters also having a brother in the Blue Grass area Simon Scheurer. Anton and Catherine had 14 children, with 13 surviving to adulthood. Frances the youngest and only daughter married late in life in 1915 to Francis Holpin.
When Max, Joe and Anton arrived in this area they were very impressed with the large stands of virgin white pine and in another close by area were stands of white oak. The soil was heavy clay with a lot of rocks. Joe supposedly said while lying on the ground gazing at the sky, "Is this what they call Paradise."
In those days $18 would buy 160 acres of homestead land.
On the return to Mankato, the decision was made to buy a sawmill outfit which consisted of a Cooper Threshing Engine, a 12 horse steamer, along with a 62 inch circle saw, twin edger, trimmer, four blade gang saw, planing mill, siding machine and re-saw. First sales of white pine lumber by the Kerns were at $9 per thousand.
In the 1890s with things slowing down, most of the settler's homes having been built, they watched their lumber piles grow with no customers and they finally made a decision to return to Mankato. However with the Great Northern railroad being pushed north from Wadena a representative of the Road walked in one day looking for bridge timbers and ties. This proved to be their salvation.
During these years with tough times the settlers began to cut their own timber and bringing it to the Kerns for sawing. They arranged to cut it, with no cash payment, but for one half the lumber.
In 1913, the Pioneer Journal announced that the Kern Brothers had finished logging for the season cutting 91,000 feet of standing pine and expecting 50,000 feet or more from area loggers. Eventually they sold the balance of their lumber to the Dower Lumber Company in Wadena and turned to other pursuits.
With the mill business sold and all the farmers going to wheat farming the need for threshing machines became apparent and the Kern Brothers were glad to accommodate the need, adding threshing machines as fast as they could, covering a large area in all directions. Some of their sons were also heavily involved for many years.
About 1895 the Kern Brothers came into Wadena and built two business places at 207 and 209 South Jefferson which later housed the Sweet Shop Café at 207 and the Wadena County State Bank at 209. In 2011 these are part of the Jefferson Square building.
In 1901, a Pioneer Journal article stated that the Kern Brothers of Leaf River were going to turn their attention more to stock raising, as the timber in the locality was about gone and that they were laying a foundation for a stock barn 30 x 60 feet with 18 foot posts.
In 1905, Max Kern announced that the saw mill which was destroyed by fire was being rebuilt and would be ready to saw in a short time. That the mill had been built larger and better in every way.
It is a bit confusing that the newspaper announces the cutting back of mill operations and then that the mill is being rebuilt larger than ever.
Joseph Kern Sr., as noted in his obituary, "He was an industrious and thrifty citizen, accumulated considerable property and his dealings were characterized by honesty and fairness."
He and his wife followed the boys to the Blue Grass area in 1887 living in Leaf River township, with Joseph, taking a homestead on the Red Eye River which he relinquished after a time. Following his death his wife lived with her son Joseph Jr. until 1904 when she moved to Wadena to live with her daughter, Frances in a home near the Catholic Church. She died in 1909.
Frances, the daughter and the youngest of the children moved to Wadena in 1896 and started the Wadena Steam Laundry in the basement of the building her brothers had built at 209 South Jefferson. It was also known as the Dry Cleaners and Dyers. In 1910 she sold out and moved west. During her years in Wadena she built the home at 422 First Street south east as mentioned above which she sold to Clyde Butturff when she sold out the laundry.
The arrival of the Kern Brothers marked the beginning of a rural Catholic Parish, St. Hubert's, in the Blue Grass area which was served for many years by the Rev. Gunderman of Verndale. But by 1907 with about 30 Catholic families in the area, they felt it was necessary to have a parish of their own. In 1908 on donated land a church was built with Gunderman as resident priest.
Anton and Joe along with Simon Scheurer donated much time and material to the construction of the new church. They also made the side altars one of which eventually became the main altar of the church.
Along with their sawmill duties they also found time to farm, milk cows and other pastimes.
Anton Sr. in his spare time liked to make furniture, made four spinning wheels with a foot type turning lathe which was stepped on by his daughter Mary. Mary and other daughters made a lot of caps and mittens for service men during World War I. The yarn made from wool from their own sheep and spun on their spinning wheels.
Anton and Max with their large families furnished the basis for later generation of Kerns, several of whom in turn also had rather large families providing an ever lasting supply of Kerns in the Blue Grass area.
The next generation of Kerns also proved an ambitious and progressive group but that is another story.